There’s something to be said for focus — doing one thing and doing it well. But why is it that in particular, Pinot Noir seems to bring out this quality in California winemakers? Even Silver Oak branched out into Merlot in the last couple of years, and while Opus one still only makes one wine we’ll chalk that up to megalomaniacal marketing. There aren’t really a lot of people around who JUST make Cabs or JUST make Zinfandels. Yet you can’t throw a rock in California wine country these days without hitting a boutique Pinot producer who has given up all other winemaking efforts to concentrate on their love affair with this grape. I’m not complaining mind you, it’s just fascinating to me how this grape brings out the passion in people. From Larry Brooks at Campion to Hank and Maggie Skewis of Skewis Vineyards, we’re lucky to have these fanatics in our midst who are dedicated to making Pinot Noir sing for us.
Maggie and Hank founded Skewis with the focus not only on Pinot Noir, but Pinot Noir from the North Coast. Since their inaugural vintage they have been sourcing fruit from the famous Floodgate vineyard, and in more recent years have expanded slightly to include several other single vineyard sources, but all within and around the northern parts of Sonoma County and in Mendocino county.
Hank and Maggie’s have this to say about the Floodgate vineyard:
Located at the far western end of the Anderson Valley about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, this property is situated on a steep southerly slope at an elevation of 750 feet. There is a strong maritime influence at work here, characterized by frequent summer fog and wind, yet temperatures can reach 100 degrees for brief periods in the afternoon. The soil is fairly poor and the vines are not vigorous, excellent conditions for the production of high quality Pinot Noir. The fruit we purchase is a 50-50 blend of Pommard and Martini clones. To insure consistency in the quality and character of the wine, we contract for the same vine rows each year.
This vineyard is the source of grapes for some of California’s most prestigious small production Pinots, including wines from Adrian Fog, Bannister, Peterson, Handley Cellars, and others. Floodgate has been in the news recently as it was purchased by Duckhorn Vineyards’ Label “Goldeneye” with the intent on building a luxury “top tier” Pinot Noir label for that winery. The press release doesn’t say, but I hope this doesn’t mean the end of a great grape source for folks like the Skewis’ and others.
Anyhow, back to the wine. Hank and Maggie, like many small Pinot producers, take what they call a hands off approach to their winemaking, letting the grapes speak for themselves and reducing their winemaking to a minimum of interventions with the grape: lightly crush it, throw it into French oak and let it ferment warm, and then don’t touch it for 18 months. The result is a very Burgundian wine, that has gorgeous complexity, and a loving expression of this vineyard.
This wine shows a cloudy, rich blood red in the glass, and has a constantly changing nose with lots of aromas that are hard to pin down as they circle around juicy cranberry, passion fruit, raspberries and something vaguely floral. In the mouth it is super smooth with flavors of smoke and earth wrapped around a core of bright red fruit that trails into a really long glorious finish that is truly spectacular.
This wine went delightfully with the traditional lemon herb roast chicken that Ruth and I made for some friends last night. The chicken was slightly spicy due to the addition of some cayenne to the recipe and the earthy fruit tones of the wine were a perfect contrast to the flavors of the dish.
Overall Score: 9
How Much?: $45
This wine was given to me by my Burgundy friend, The one who drinks Pinot and white Burgundies to the exception of most everything else. I’m having a hard time finding it for purchase online, however it seems you can buy it in small quantities from the winery. You can download a faxable order form from their site.